I own this network

Introduction

Before I go any further, this is my first post using Blogsy on the iPad so here’s hoping it publishes as expected.

I returned to work last week after a lovely beach holiday with the family, chilling out and catching some rays. I went in to the office on Monday with the full intention of putting a couple of ongoing issues to bed and taking note of the outstanding tasks that need addressing so that I could formulate a plan of attack.

Background

Let me give you a little background to put things in perspective. I work for an ISP in the UK. I see my domain as a network engineer broken down in to four main areas. There is our core network, our access customers such as dial up, ADSL\SDSL, leased lines, MPLS etc, our hosted customers that reside in our different data centres and the management piece that encompasses all of these which includes logging, performance monitoring, security, configuration management, auditing, documentation and all that good stuff. Some of these things are missing, some are in place but all need attention to some degree at some location under my responsibility. I started at the company 4.5 years ago as a Microsoft engineer and those who have read my previous posts will know that I got my CCNA three years ago and made the fully fledged move to networking in November of 2011 so I am a relative noobie, despite hopefully being only a few weeks away from gaining a hard earned CCNP.

So back to my original tale of good intentions and their rapid evaporation. Thursday morning came around and I found that I had become increasingly annoyed over the week. Although most likely not true, it seemed that every time I logged on to a device to either make a change or troubleshoot an issue, I was finding trails of legacy config, standard practice being laughed at and very little in the way of an explanation of why certain quirks had been put in place. I’ve seen several network engineers come and go during my time with my current employer, with various skills and capabilities. The problem is that they have all left now. The current team include myself, who only really ‘looked behind the curtain’ at the end of last year and two others that have joined even more recently so I found myself from time to time playing the well known game of ‘blame the guy who has moved on’. Fair? In this case, absolutely. Helpful? Not one bit but I do believe that anybody putting a network infrastructure in place should leave enough documentation behind for another capable engineer to pick up and not only understand how that network is supposed to work but also why certain design decisions were made. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for as a minimum. So as I drove home on Thursday evening, I found myself quietly seething about me having to pick up the crap left behind by others. This is nothing new in the world of IT though, or indeed in many other fields.

Lightbulb moment

On Friday morning, I decided that I wanted to walk our core network to get a better grasp of how it ticks. I printed off a Visio diagram (as a side note and final moan, a diagram that I created six months ago as the existing one at that time was a mess and largely incorrect). My plan was to start at the edge where our little part of the Internet joins the big boys, work my way to the core and back up to our other edge (we are multihomed) one device at a time. This could take days or even weeks to do, depending on what depth I wanted to go to.

Only five minutes in to my first router and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I wasn’t shrugging my shoulders at the configuration that lay before me. This was now my network and it was mine to improve, tweak, fix and care for. I suddenly saw what was previously a daunting task as an amazing opportunity to improve my own knowledge, understanding and confidence as well as the network itself.

Slightly giddy, I opened an Excel spreadsheet and created a new tab for each core device and a general one to cover things not specific to any one device. I took a dump of the router’s config and started going through it line by line. Anything that looked wrong or didn’t make sense didn’t get me mad. It just got noted. Anything relevant to the Visio that wasn’t already on it got pencilled in for later. I had other tasks to do that day so only managed the one device but it felt very satisfying.

Summary

I now had a much clearer vision and a drive to see it through to completion. It all changed with a flick of a switch in my head labelled ‘attitude’. The same problems exist but now I own them, even embrace them and that means this is all going to actually be fun (my twisted sense of fun anyway). This could be the greatest training programme I ever go on…and I get paid for it!

One final thing to say. The title of this post may be slightly misleading to some. Don’t get caught up in the illusion that you really do own a network that you’ve invested time in, unless of course it’s your home network. What I’m saying is, don’t become that guy that keeps details to himself in order to give himself that false sense of job security. You are a facilitator. Share the knowledge so that others can add value too.

Till the next time.

2 Replies to “I own this network”

  1. Good story and sadly not everyone takes this viewpoint in the same situation you described. Truly refreshing!

  2. Wow, I’m a just finishing up my CCNA, and looking beyond to CCNP and its so great to read about this!

    How easy it is to feel the ‘victim’ and put upon when things are like this, instead of an ‘opportunity to excel’ and make it into what it should be!

Please let me know your thoughts!